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Analysis: Putin Offers Compromise on Missile Defenses

Council on Foreign Relations

Updated: June 8, 2007
Prepared by: Lionel Beehner

President Bush mentioned “freedom” no fewer than forty times in a speech delivered in Prague this week. His words took aim at despots around the world in places like Iran and Venezuela, but also jabbed at the ruler of Russia, President Vladimir Putin. Over a span of seven years, as this Backgrounder explains, relations between the two leaders have gone from chummy to chilly, mainly because of disputes over regional security and the rollback of Russian democracy. Freedom, President Bush is now well aware, has been “derailed” (RFE/RL) in today’s Russia. So it came as rather a shock when on June 7, Putin suggested (NYT) that Russia partner with the United States on a missile defense shield in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

Even if President Bush accepts the offer, relations between the two nations will likely remain tense. As this February 2006 CFR Task Force report accurately prophesied, relations almost seemed bound to deteriorate as Russia edged closer to authoritarian rule and away from democratic norms. Its alleged use of energy as a foreign policy tool to intimidate neighbors like Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia raised alarm bells across Western Europe, which relies on Russian natural gas. The unsolved murders of a string of anti-Kremlin dissidents, including the muckraking journalist Anna Politkovskaya and the ex-KGB officer-turned-whistle blower Alexander Litvinenko, sent relations with several European countries, particularly Britain, into a downward spiral. And the plan to stage a missile-defense radar system in former Warsaw Pact states like Poland and the Czech Republic, following on the earlier U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, has Putin fulminating in a Cold War vein (Reuters).

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Copyright 2007 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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